Monday, February 15, 2010

Avatar in Three Dimensions

Following swiftly on the heels of my viewing of Disney's A Christmas Carol in 3D, I went to see James Cameron's new, record smashing, hit movie Avatar. I'm not sure what I expected going into the theatre. Certainly the previews showed a visually stunning movie, but one that I suspected would have a fairly straightforward, and thinly veiled, story about military exploitation.

One feature that I was really looking forward to was the supposed innovation in 3D technology. I guess I fell for all the hype. It really wasn't all that impressive. Sure, there are a few sparks and other floaty things that stick out, and some sort of weird holographic computer interface that has prominent screen time for about a second. Other than that I really felt let down. I suspect that the real difference between Avatar and Disney's Christmas Carol in regards to the 3d projection is the forced focus in the former. By that I mean that far too often in Avatar the only thing in focus is the main character. I suppose this is more a limitation of real world camera technology vs. computer animation, but I found it very annoying, especially when the story's pacing flagged and my eyes tended to wander around the frame.

I'm not going to go into a plot breakdown, I'm sure most people have seen the movie already. I will say that the movie is not really anti-war, as some have claimed.

Instead I want to focus on three other areas where I felt the movie failed. They really are nothing more than nits that I'd like to pick, at least when one considers the sheer number of movie and T.V. shows have the same problems or worse.

The first problem is the rubber-faced aliens. While I realize that rubber has been exchanged for CGI, the Na'vi are still just humans done up just to look wierd - and stereotypically tribal, for whatever reason.

My second gripe is the use of the word 'unobtainium'. Even to those viewers who have lives more interesting than a nerdy blogger who knows about many types of literary tropes and memes, the name unobtainium should be ridiculously transparent; the writers of this movie have no imagination, and so they have snarkily decided to co-opt the language of their critics.

And finally, the voice-overs. . .

I once read that a sure sign that you are watching a bad movie is when the voice-over starts - and I cannot say that I disagree. However, I think James Cameron really missed an opportunity with his use of the voice-over. Obviously, the choice to use voice-overs in Avatar was made, just as in the case of the theatrical release of Blade Runner, bcause the producers felt that the audience would be comprised of utter morons who couldn't understand what they were seeing without being told. Once again, I cannot say that I disagree - at least not completely. It baffles me how such a mediocre movie can generate so much box-office revenue while great movies like Serenity barely make back their budget.

That being said, I think there can be a place for character driven voice-over narration. For instance, the video journals are a great time saving device and were vital to protraying a story that takes place over a long period of time in a movie that is only (or should be) two hours long. Used properly, the effect is tasteful and unobtrusive.

The problem is that there are voice overs that clearly are not part of Jake Sully's video journals. In fact, they can only be explained as an omnicient expository device, and as such I found them to be disruptive to my state of suspended disbelief. I feel the extraneous voice-overs could have easily been lumped into the video journal conceit, or omitted alltogether. Actually, I'm not completely convinced that James Cameron wasn't attempting a much subtler effect but had his efforts co-opted by some marketing team.

Rating ***/5

Edit (01/10/11): I've just finished watching the 'Collector's Extended Cut' version of Avatar (2D). I now see that Cameron intended all the voice overs to be part of Jake's video journal. There is, however, still no explanation as to why the normally taciturn and private ex-marine is so verbose when making such an easily accessible recording. Why would he even include his back story if he's just supposed to be documenting his experiences with the Na'vi? I can only assume that the intro and some of the other voice overs are meant to be part of his final message before shedding his human body. The whole movie, including the other video journal entries, is then simply a flashback. Without clear distinction between the two sets of voice overs, things become a little confusing.

No comments:

Post a Comment